The email sat in his drafts folder for a week. After achieving his dream of becoming a full-time esports commentator, Jamie “DirK” Diaz Ruiz was about to voluntarily walk away from it.
It was less than two years ago that the native Englishman was a water technician in the Arizona desert, waiting for a phone call from the newly formed NBA 2K League to join the commentary desk. Call of Duty and Gears of War events lined his resume, but a full-fledged career in esports commentary had eluded him. The call eventually came, and two seasons came and went with Diaz Ruiz working as an analyst alongside play-by-play man Scott Cole, showing off a masterful understanding of the NBA 2K community and game mechanics while building natural chemistry with his deskmate.
All that time, Diaz Ruiz played the same game competitively. He had played NBA 2K since the turn of the decade, and while he was good from the start, soon Diaz Ruiz was playing with the best, even making the finals of “post-draft” Pro-Am tournaments.
He became so good that midway through season two of the NBA 2K League, he began to think about becoming a full-time player. Diaz Ruiz still enjoyed commentating, but being a freelance esports commentator was beginning to be a financial burden. Commentating work outside of the league was scarce, and any other day job that would accept only three days of work a week wouldn’t be worth it. Plus, the more he competed, the more the thought of playing on the NBA 2K League stage reverberated in his mind.
The release of NBA 2K20 meant a refocused Diaz Ruiz. He began playing the game not just to learn it in order to improve his commentary but to win against the best players. The introduction of NBA 2K League-team sponsored tournaments for draft pool spots provided the opportunity for him to compete with some of the best NBA 2K players in the world with everything on the line.
Teaming up with other draft hopefuls, Diaz Ruiz and his team “In Our Bag” made noise immediately, making it all the way to the finals of Hornets Venom GT’s Online Pro-Am Tournament. The team took one game in the five-game series, but failed to score even 40 points in the rest, falling 3-1 to “OverLooked.”
“I told myself, win or lose, if I don’t have any sort of emotion after the Hornets’ finals, then I know I don’t have the passion and this isn’t for me,” he told DIMER. “After that loss, I started up my stream and bawled my eyes out for five minutes.”
It was a tough blow, but three weeks later Diaz Ruiz and “In Our Bag” again found themselves in a tournament final, this time the Wizards DG Classic. They were flown out to Washington, D.C., to take on Ascension. In a close best-of-five series, “In Our Bag” won in four games with Diaz Ruiz manning the paint at center. “Even after all the losses, I never had any self-doubt about my abilities,” he said. “Losing those tournaments only makes you want to win more.”
It became undeniable: Diaz Ruiz probably had what it takes to become an NBA 2K League player. Though he wasn’t given a draft spot for his team’s triumph, he had won a major tournament with the community and league personnel watching, more than enough to raise his draft stock.
And so the email went from his drafts to the league’s inbox, in it an explanation that he was stepping down from his role as a commentator to compete in the season three combine with the intention of being drafted.
It wasn’t a decision Diaz Ruiz took lightly. Even if he had a guaranteed gig as a caster, he felt it was best for him to pursue being a player so he wouldn’t ask himself, “what if?” It was a risk he was willing to take. And though he knew the league would miss him as a commentator, he felt he had given the league enough time to find a replacement with season three likely four to five months out.
“The time commentating for the league was great, they treated me so well,” he said. “The decision was tough. I was waiting for the right time to send the email to them. I had been talking to Brendan about it. He told me on the phone that he saw this coming and he is going to support me 100%.”
A tweet accompanied the email, making the decision public.
“This has been on my mind for a while and a lot of people have been asking,” it read. “But as of right now, I have my eyes set on becoming a player in the NBA 2K League. If given an opportunity to make the pool, I’m 100% taking it.”
Texts poured in from friends and community members. “They all said they were happy for me, but then all of them were like, ‘Wait, who’s going to commentate?’” he laughed.
Diaz Ruiz’s professional playing career had officially begun. “It felt like a weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders after I sent that email,” he admitted. “It was so stressful, but if I talked to past me two years ago and told him I was making this decision, I think he’d be pretty happy.”
It was also an announcement that almost didn’t happen. “If I had lost in the finals in D.C., I would not have made that tweet. I would’ve started leaning more toward commentating.” Instead, Diaz Ruiz said the victory and his play gave him confidence heading into the combine.
The combine affirmed that confidence. Diaz Ruiz played with a newfound intensity. He had played in the season one and season two combines, but mostly to create content and to experience what it was like. Now he was playing for more.
He tore through the competition, finishing with a 32-8 record, recording 13 points per game, over 18 rebounds per game and 7.5 assists per game on almost 70% shooting. The win-loss record likely puts him among the best at his position. He’s a self-described all-around, but aggressive, center who can play on the inside or outside. “I showed that among the new breed of centers coming in, I’m 100% a top center,” he said.
While the league hasn’t notified those who made the draft pool via the combine, it’s a strong bet Diaz Ruiz will receive an email saying so. “Obviously I’d love to go round one. Do I think that’s going to happen? No,” he said. “I think realistically I can see myself as a late second-rounder, maybe round three or four. If you had asked me before these team tournaments, I would have 100% said round four.” If he’s not drafted, he’ll see if commentary or a coaching position is still available.
Should he be drafted, it would put him in rare, perhaps even untread, territory as a commentator-turned-first-time-player.
The reverse isn’t uncommon. In both traditional sports and esports, players will sometimes move into a commentary role at the end of their careers. There are even former players going into commentary and then back to playing again, such as Jason Witten, who had a stint as an analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football in between two separate stints as a tight end in the NFL.
But commentator to first-time player may be completely unheard of, a fact that’s part of Diaz Ruiz’s motivation. Trying to prove himself as a player and not just a commentator also fuels him.
“I used to be bothered when people on the other team in Pro-Am would say ‘He’s just a caster.’ But now it’s just when I do anything good they’re mindblown. It goes both ways too because when they’re beating me they’re calling me a caster but when I beat them I can say, ‘Well you just lost to a commentator.’”
It took a while, but his high level of play eventually garnered the respect of his peers. Soon, instead of “you’re just a caster,” it became, “you’re a dog.”
“The talk the past few months has gone from ‘Dirk would be an amazing sixth man,’ to ‘Dirk would be an amazing starter,’” he said. “That’s the thing that’s been motivating me as well. I’ve been living with the tag of the caster or the commentator, ‘you can’t hoop, you can’t play.’ I already know if I’m on the stage and do something bad the other team is going to be on their feet telling me to go back to the desk.”
Instead of trying to shed the title of commentator, he wants to embrace it. He knows that he’ll still be known as the guy who used to be a commentator, and that his time at the desk will always be part of who he is. “I’ve already decided if I go on to make the league, my gamertag is going to be ‘The Caster,’” he said.